November 14, 2011
As a light breeze gently rustled the last leaves of fall, the hunter crouched motionless in the brown grass, his quarry finally in sight, just across the small clearing, but…
still too far.
Choreographed by the ages, the dance had begun. A thousand years of hunting drove the hunter. A thousand years of being hunted fueled the instincts of the prey.
Stay low. One slow silent step after another, closing the distance. Place a foot carefully, then freeze… and stare. Closer now: an hour passed. Don’t blink. The sound of the wind in the leaves is deafening: can he hear my breath?
A small depression ahead in the hillside; cover for the hunter, danger for the prey. Near the slope at the far edge, nearly close enough. Under the shadow of a pine, its trunk shielding his movements, a few more steps and the time for the kill…
Suddenly shattering the stillness of the moment: “Jingles! … Dinner!”
The small gray cat stood, turned, and trotted back toward the house.
Oh well, a nice warm plate of “Fancy Feast” would taste better than that old chipmunk, anyway.
May 27, 2007
It was cloudy and cold that day in the late fall of nineteen hundred and forty four as a small boy stood with his family on the windy concrete platform of the old Milwaukee railroad station in Missoula Montana awaiting the departure of the train bound for the west coast.
The boy of three-plus years stood at attention in his miniature green uniform, authentically made for him by his mother’s hands. On each collar of his jacket he proudly wore the Globe and Anchor of the United States Marine Corps.
A few feet away stood a tall young Marine also dressed in a crisp green uniform. On his collars were shiny gold bars: on the left side of his campaign cover was a Globe and Anchor, on the right another gold bar.
When departure time came, the young officer hugged his mother, shook his father’s hand and then shook the hand of his young brother, followed by a sharp salute, then turned and boarded the train. His destination, known to him but not to the family; the South Pacific.
It was a cold winter that year but also one filled with foreboding and anxiety as the news of the South Pacific Campaign slowly trickled back to the town. The boy knew that something very important was happening from some of the words he overheard spoken and from an occasional glimpse of his mother’s tears.
There were letters received by the family during that winter, sporadic and short, but ever so welcome. Then one afternoon, when spring was at the doorstep of western Montana a large black sedan pulled up to the curb in front of the family home. The boy could see the tears well up in his mother’s eyes but he was still too young to understand.
A Navy Commander accompanied by an aide emerged from the car and made their way up the walk to the front door. After a short introduction, the Commander made a short and emotional statement: “The Department of the Navy regrets to inform you that your son has been killed in action during the battle for Iwo Jima.”
There is much, much more to this story, but to put it briefly for now, the Department of the Navy is not always right. Several weeks later a letter came in the mail in the young officer’s shaky handwriting and postmarked from the US medical facility on Guam, where he was slowly recovering from massive wounds incurred on the morning of March twenty-sixth during the last battle on the island and on the day Iwo Jima was declared officially secure. He was more fortunate than many of his comrades about whom the brief messages from the Department of the Navy were correct.
May 9, 2007
I love the opening day of trout season in Montana, when I get to re-learn everything I forgot since last year! While the season doesn’t open for two more weeks yet, I can vividly remember opening day last year because I took notes:
Yesterday I Drove out to the Little Thompson River.
The fun started with the hip boots when I got cramps in both shoulders putting them on. (The fact that the temperature was only slightly lower than at the top of Mt. Everest didn’t help much.) I finally got them on my feet, stood up and then realized I didn’t have a belt. No problem, I attached them to my belt loops (BIG mistake!)
I broke the ice away from the edge of the stream and carefully waded out. Geez, these rocks are more slippery than they used to be! It was then that I noticed that the slight splash I was making was freezing to my hat. There were some deer about 100 yards away in the meadow and I felt bad about getting them so wet, but I was pretty occupied doing the “Hamsterdance”.
As it turns out there’s a very good reason why you wear a belt with hip boots: then they don’t pull your jeans down to your knees. (That in itself isn’t too bad a problem, but it also means your boots are also down to your knees.) So I slogged back to shore and emptied out the boots.
Finally got to fish for awhile.
There were two routes back to the Jeep: the route I had come, through the high grass and thorn trees, or the direct route through a slough. I didn’t want to go back the way I came because I couldn’t bear the sight of all those little pieces of skin hanging from the thorn trees. The slough looked like a better choice. I calculated the depth of the thing to be about 38 inches and stepped in. Found out the calculation was correct. Also found out the height of my boots was 34 inches.
Slogged back to shore again. This time I sat down, took out my fishing knife and cut holes in the bottoms of the boots. It made emptying them out much quicker and easier!
Next week I’m going to take the only fish I caught to the taxidermist. If he mounts it correctly, I can wear it on my pinky finger. It ought to go well with the Bass lure that’s still embedded in the ring finger. I’ll feel a little guilty, though. I didn’t exactly catch the fish: he came out one of the times when I emptied the water out of my boots.
April 25, 2007
It was hunting season in northwestern Montana and the high mountain roads were either snow packed or ice covered or both as was the stretch coming up ahead of us. As I piloted the Jeep up that particularly steep and extremely icy section, almost wide enough for the wheels, I said to my son and hunting companion, “this is where we have to exercise the utmost caution.”
“Why, because we only have two tires on the road, the tach is reading 3000 RPM, and we’re going BACKWARDS?”, he yelled. … “JUMP!!!”
“No, that‘s not what I mean” I said. “When we get home we have to exercise the utmost caution to avoid mentioning this to your mother or our hunting will be over for the rest of this year at the very least. Women, especially your mother, are very peculiar about such things . I don’t understand exactly, but I know from experience that’s just how they are.”
“Now, since you’re already out of the Jeep, climb down out of that tree and hook our winch cable onto that big log that’s fallen across the road up ahead and we’ll be on our way.”
Seven heart attacks later we arrived at our planned hunting spot and within half an hour my fingers were able to let go of the steering wheel. Everything looked good so far, but I thought it rather strange there was absolutely no one else around. They all must have taken the bad road up.
The hunt went very well and after roughly twenty miles of hiking up, over, and around the Continental Divide, we bagged a nice 6X7 Mulie who was leaning on the Jeep when we returned.
The trip back down the mountain was fairly simple and completely predictable, since we already knew the road was nothing but ice. All fear of sliding down the road left as soon as complete terror took over and the actual sliding began, and it would have been quite pleasant if it hadn’t been for all the loud screaming going on. We hardly aged twenty years before arriving at the bottom!
As we turned onto the highway for the last fifty miles home, I realized it was again time to exercise the utmost caution. The bad road was behind us now, but the dangerous road was still ahead.
April 8, 2007
It’s now part of the order of things to wear a helmet for whatever you do after you’ve gotten out of bed in the morning (although I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a sleeping helmet somewhere on a designer’s drawing board), and I have to agree that at certain times helmets are good things to have. They are very good things for the balance sheets of the people who manufacture and sell them.
I’ve worn more than a few helmets myself and still wear one for some activities.
For over four years the Marine Corps encouraged me to wear one, explaining that it would keep bullets and other pieces of flying metal from bouncing off my head, and while I didn’t enjoy it, I went along with the program after they also explained that they would bounce a few other things off my head if I didn’t.
I watched a hard hat save a man’s life one time while fighting a forest fire back in the mountains of Idaho when he was struck on the head by the top 10 feet of a burned-through tree. It knocked him flat and put a 2-inch dent in the hat, but other than being slightly crazier than usual, he was OK because of the protection.
When I played football I was happy to wear a helmet, especially when a 300 pound guy was standing on my head, although it didn’t help quite as much when he was standing on my face.
Now there are batting helmets, hockey helmets, bull riding helmets (personally I’d rather have a padded helmet on the bull rather than a hard helmet on me), bicycle helmets, tricycle helmets, skateboard helmets, ski helmets, and probably out there somewhere is a helmet to wear while walking down the street just in case a wheel were to fall from a 747 and, with pin-point accuracy, zero in on your cranium and drive you into the ground like a tent stake. “Oh, look, Martha!” “A tent stake with a helmet on!”
However, there has to be an end to all this somewhere. I will be slightly dismayed when badminton helmets make their appearance as they’re sure to do, probably in the not too distant future. (Man, those little birdies can really smart!) I definitely won’t wear an internet helmet once they are introduced, although with the velocity and the density of some of the things that come out of cyberspace…well, maybe I need one of them too.
I guess I’ll have to draw the line at fishing helmets. I can just hear the television reporter now: “Montucky was fatally injured today when a fully loaded Northern Pacific freight train jumped the tracks and landed right smack on top of him while he was fishing. “He was not wearing a helmet at the time.”
April 2, 2007
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* * *
As he headed up the steep slope of the ridge the rock felt hard and solid beneath his boots and the brush tugged at his legs. No trail here. The air was getting thinner with the increase in altitude and his breath was coming harder now, his pack a little heavier and its straps were damp from the exertion, but the breeze drifting up the slope was cool on his neck. Another hour to the top.
Behind him the ground fell away toward the valley far below. The valley of man… the world of noise, concrete and steel, of smoke …and headlines.
Nature greeted him at the top with a display of Her floral beauty, and at his feet, the tracks of the great bear left in the last patch of winter’s snow.
Ahead, on the far side of the divide he looked down at wild valleys clad in spring grass, mountain ridges resplendent in green and a world without the cares of man. He had arrived once again at the balance point.